NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States' Precarious Finances Dampen Charter-School Momentum

January 21, 2003

More charter schools are opening each year, but not at the pace they did in the early 1990s, education specialists report. State budget shortfalls are reportedly strengthening the hands of charter opponents.

Conceived as an alternative to a public education system seen as too hidebound, charter schools receive state funds but operate with varying degrees of autonomy from local school districts and rules.

  • At present, about 2,700 charter schools in 39 states and the District of Columbia are educating some 600,000 students.
  • About 383 new charters opened this past fall -- down from 472 in the peak year of 1999.
  • In many states, the number of applicants seeking to launch charters has dwindled.
  • Meanwhile, charter opponents in Illinois, Michigan and North Carolina have thwarted efforts to lift statewide caps on the number of new charters permitted to operate.

Although research on charter schools' impact on academic achievement is mixed, many parents continue to see them as a viable alternative to public schools. By one estimate, the waiting list at existing charters could fill 900 additional schools.

In states where charters have begun to siphon significant numbers of students from traditional public schools, they face stiffening political opposition from school districts and teachers unions which complain of diminished funding and clout.

In many states, would-be charter operators must have their charter applications approved by local school boards -- the very entities that have the most to lose in terms of students and public funding.

Source: Robert Tomsho, "Charter-School Movement Sputters," Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2003.

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